In the following article, Mrs. Groenendyk, after explaining the idea of “adiaphora,” discusses two main ideas: (1) Howard Van Till’s “Adiaphora Strategy” in The Fourth Day, and (2) Van Till’s “Adiaphora Strategy” in Reverse. This second section is satire which applies to Van Till’s book the same strategies he uses against the Bible. The headings and subheadings are very helpful in following the line of argumentation. The article requires careful reading (and re-reading for maximum benefit) because it deals with a highly complex book which this author has brilliantly dissected. Although the creation-evolution issue plagues the CRC, it is important reading for all Christians because the struggle in the eRe on this issue is only a microcosm of the same struggle going on in this country and other parts of the world. The Editors
What are the concepts of adiaphora and “vehicle-packaging-content” doing to the authority of the Bible in the Christian Reformed community?
HISTORY OF ADIAPHORA
Adiaphora comes from the Greek word adiaphoros which means indifferent. Adiaphora is really the plural of adiaphoron. Adiaphora is an old term which caused much controversy in the Lutheran Church soon after Luther’s death.
In 1548 Charles V had theologians draw up an interim which is a temporary agreement in religious matters. It was called the Augsburg Interim and was forced upon the Lutherans in Germany. The Adiaphoristic Controversy was caused by the compromise Melanchthon made in his acceptance of the Leipzig Interim made by Maurice of Saxony for his dominions.
“Melanchthon had introduced almost all of the Roman ceremonies for the sake of compromise under the pretext that these rites were neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word, and hence were non-essentials, adiaphora, or matters of indifference. He also compromised with Rome on the doctrine of justification and the seven Sacraments.”1 “Melanchthon and his friends deliberately veiled difficulties under vague expressions and treated the concessions to Rome as non-essential or indifferent (adiaphora).”2
“Many Protestants, such as lllyrirus Flacius and John Calvin, believed that Melanchthon had sacrificed too much.”3 The opposition was led by Flacius, taking the attitude: “Nothing is an adiaphoron when confession and offense are involved.”4
“In practice the controversy was ended in September, 1555 by the religious peace of Augsburg, when Lutheranism was acknowledged as legitimate, but much bitter and dangerous internal strife was kept up by Protestants on the theoretical question of adiaphora.”5
The tenth article of the Formula of Concord (1577) was an attempt by the Lutheran Church to settle the matter. The “Statement of Lutheran Doctrine” in the tenth article included: “We must not classify as adiaphora those things that are against the Word of God.”6
Melanchthon confessed his mistake, but much strife continued between his followers and the Flacianists. Flacius is widely considered to have saved the Reformation. “Adiaphorism was definitely contrary to the principles of the Reformed (or Calvinistic) church.”7
“The Adiaphora argument has recurred often in Christian thought. It can concern actions that are indifferent (neither bad nor good, being neither commanded nor forbidden by God), ceremonies (neither forbidden nor commanded so they may be used or discarded), and doctrines (although taught in the Word of God, they are of such minor importance that they may be disbelieved without injury to the faith).8
VANTILL’S “ADIAPHORA STRATEGY”
Adiaphorism began in the Lutheran Church but has grown, and it continues to be used to declare anything one terms as “nonessential” or “indifferent” to salvation or redemption as adiaphora. “It doesn’t affect my salvation” is heard frequently in the Christian Reformed community today in an effort to compromise and fit present day issues in the church into the interpretation of Scripture.
In his book, The Fourth Day, I believe Howard Van Till, in what he calls “packaging” in his “vehicle-packaging-content” model of Bible interpretation, is using and expanding adiaphorism.
To get a better grasp of the Bible interpretation approach presented in Chapter One of The Fourth Day, it is most expedient to discuss the first chapter as a whole.
First, I would like to summarize and comment on Chapter One of The Fourth Day entitled “Taking the Bible Seriously.”
The chapter begins with the discussion of the status of the Bible. The author establishes that the Bible is the Word of God but later qualifies it by saying, “…the Bible as an organic whole functions as God’s Word, Holy Scripture”9 (page 5). It’s necessary for him to make that qualifying statement because later he classifies some parts of Scripture as being the product of divine revelation and other parts of Scripture as not being the product of divine revelation. Van Till also writes: “Though it has the status of the ‘Word of God,’ the Bible comes to us in the form of thoroughly human language and literature” (page 5). As one reads on in Chapter One, this statement is further elucidated because the author later declares the human stories, accounts and events as “packaging” and gives divine revelation and trustworthiness only to the teaching conveyed but not to the specific stories, events, or accounts themselves.
The Covenantal Structure of the Bible (Van Till)
In the author’s “status discussion,” he goes to some length to establish that the Bible has covenental structure which is a tenet of Calvinism. By emphasizing the covenant structure of Scripture and particularly the Creator/Creation relationship he can later in the book claim that Genesis 1 must be read as follows:
The Genesis narratives and other biblical materials on creation may better be seen as artistic illustrations of the eternal covenant relationship of Creator and Creation than as journalistic reports of specific past events (page 247).
The author’s emphasis on covenant structure also helps him later in the chapter to try to convince the reader that not only does the Bible have covenantal structure but also covenantal form so that later in the book he can declare Genesis 1–11 to be primeval history because it has the form of “suzerainty covenant,” a form of covenant common in the ancient Near East at the time of the writing of the Old Testament. By claiming Genesis 1–11 to be primeval history, the flood story can be read as only an illustrative story of the Creator/Creation relationship. It’s necessary for the author to make an illusion of the flood story events since empirical study does not accept the flood story events because they do not follow the normal pattern of material behavior.
If there is similarity in form between God’s covenants and suzerainty covenant, I see no necessity for God having to imitate suzerainty covenant in His covenants or His writings. A child imitates a parent much more quickly than a parent imitates a child; therefore, logically, since God’s covenants with Adam, Noah, and Abraham occurred first, any similarity would more likely have resulted from suzerainty covenant having imitated God’s covenants retold from generation to generation by covenant people until Genesis was written, rather than vice-versa.
In Van Till’s discussion of the multifaceted character of Scripture, he writes about redemption and the Creator-Redeemer relationship and concludes with the following:
And finally it must be noted that much of what we find in many parts of the Bible is merely incidental information of little importance or relevance to the gospel message…Now that’s interesting, but not particularly important or relevant to my redemption (page 7). (The italics are mine for the purpose of showing use of adiaphorism, J.G.) This is getting the reader ready for what the author classifies as “packaging” in his Bible interpretation model.
In his discussion of the multiplicity of Scripture’s sources, Van Till is laying groundwork well for his model of Bible interpretation with the following quote:
Yet, while the content of the Bible’s kerygmatic message, its proclamation of the gospel (content), is thoroughly divine because of its origins in divine revelation, the form of that message (vehicle) and the historical-cultural context in which it was revealed (packaging) is thoroughly human (page 8). (parentheses mine, J.G.)
The Poetic Form of the Bible (Van Till)
In his discussion on the variety of Scripture’s forms, the author works hard to convince the reader that the “Story of Origins” or the “Story of the Creator,” as Van Till calls the creation story, has the literary form of poetry, and he engages more Creator/Creation discussion as seen in the following quote:
If we try to read a poetic or liturgical story of origins as if it were a primitive scientific report, we might see a chronicle of divine magic rather than an artistic portrait of the Creator-Creation relationship (page 11). Here Van Till works on establishing the necessity of poetry to convey such a profound truth as creation. Later in the chapter he picks up the discussion of its needing to be poetry and then makes a superb effort to sell the idea that any profound truth should and could be told so much more adequately in metaphoric or symbolic poetic form. The following quotation illustrates his sales effort:
Simple matters of historical record may be conveyed by a matter-of-fact chronicle of events. Profound truths of immense magnitude, however, cannot always be adequately expressed in the genre of straightforward expository discourse; they are often expressed better in a more symbolic or poetic form. How often we say, “Words just can’t describe what I want to express.” Our best altenative, then, is to shift from expository discourse, which does constitute an attempt to contain something in words fully, to poetry or some other highly symbolic form that makes no pretense of exhaustively describing some great thought or event or emotion, but instead freely admits that it is simply pointing in a certain direction that readers must creatively and imaginatively follow if they are to get even the beginning of an understanding of that profound idea (pp. 1415).
One can only say, “What a profound sales job for symbolic poetry!” This is laying groundwork carefully for later claiming symbolic poetry as the vehicle (literary form) for Genesis 1. Van Till also gives Psalm 23 as an example of symbolic poetry and concludes with this: “The magnitude of that message is so great that only the vehicle of lyric poetry could bear the heavy load. Powerful vehicle, appropriate packaging, magnificent message!” (page 15). No one argues that the Psalms are not poetic or that Psalm 23 does not use symbolic pastoral language. It may be convenient and helpful for the author, but is it appropriate to use Psalm 23 as an illustration to persuade the reader to transfer this thinking over to Genesis 1?
Van Till accuses anyone who takes a more literal interpretation of Scripture as doing so out of ignorance, ineptness, fear and lack of trust in Scripture’s Author. Later in the chapter he classifies those not willing to use his “vehicle-packaging-content” model on Scripture as being foolish and absurd. How kind! How nonjudgmental!
The following quote promises that one’s eyes will be opened: “On the contrary, we may confidently expect that we will see his (God’s) message all the more clearly when we make proper use of critical tools” (page 12). Two human beings fell for that line before!
Three Functions of Scripture (Van Till)
Howard Van Till takes it upon himself to pronounce three functions for Scripture and ranks them as primary, secondary, and a third function of much less importance. He asserts that the primary function of Scripture is to bring the gospel or redemption message. He writes: “Finally we must interpret any Scripture passage in the context of the primary function of Scripture—to reveal God’s marvelous work of redemption” (page 18).
The purpose the author ranks as secondary is to provide testimony and eyewitness accounts of God at work in human history and in His Creation.
The third function according to Van Till is the following:
Yet another function of Scripture, of considerably less importance than the primary and secondary functions, is to provide the reader with information concerning things in themselves. I say “in themselves” as opposed to “in relation to God” or “in their function as vehicles of divine revelation.” Such information is incidental to the principal themes of Scripture and is drawn solely from human experience. This includes information about persons…, information about events, or information about the material world expressed in the pre-scientific language of the day. Such information may be relevant for academic study of one sort or another but makes little or no impact on our experience of redemption. Taking the Bible seriously does not require us to treat such matters as the product of divine revelation; on the contrary, taking the Bible seriously requires, I believe, giving such incidental information the lesser status that I have suggested (page 13). (The italics is mine for the purpose of showing use of adiaphorism, J.G.)
Van Till not only assigns and ranks the three functions of Scripture, he then makes these three Van Till—given functions the basis of our priorities for study of God’s Word. One would think Van Till had an inside line to the Author of Scripture. He has the boldness to segment Scripture as to divine revelation and importance when the Author of Scripture has said:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (II Timothy 3:16 and 17).
The “Vehicle-Packaging-Content” Model (Van Till)
The three functions are setting the stage well for presenting the author’s “vehicle-packaging-content” model which is based on the three stated functions.
In his discussion of the vehicle model of the Bible, Van Till says: “To complete the introduction to this vehicle model of Scripture, let me note, finally, that the Bible can be viewed as a complete unit, including the vehicle (literary genre), packaging (specific story, symbols,etc.), and contents (God’s message to us)” (page 15).
To illustrate his “vehicle-packaging content” model of Bible interpretation, Van Till uses the word picture of a granola bar.
The “content” of his model which is the redemption message or specific teaching of God, is likened to the granola bar itself. This the author classifies as food and being of divine revelation and the trustworthy teachings of God. Van Till says:
We can be confident that all of the content of God’s message in the Bible is delivered to us undamaged and unspoiled…so we as readers of Scripture must be studiously and prayerfully wise in separating the contents (the trustworthy teachings of God) from the vehicle and the packaging (page 15). What does that say for the Scripture classified as “packaging”?
Van Till likens the wrapper of the granola bar to the part of Scripture he classifies as “packaging,” which includes the specific stories, events, and accounts, or the part of Scripture which he does not consider to be “content.” What does one usually do with the wrapper? Toss it in the waste basket? Does that denote much value to that part of Scripture?
The truck which delivered the granola bar the author likens to the vehicle of his Bible interpretation model, which is the literary form or genre in which that part of Scripture is written, such as poetry or historical chronicle. Van Till explains:
Or, to put it in “real” terms instead of “model” terms, the task ofBiblical interpretation is to extract the original meaning, God’s message or teaching (content), from the specific event, account, or story (packaging) as it has been conveyed to us by a particular literary genre, such as chronicle, epic, or parable (vehicle) (page 18).
The following quote is Van Till’s application of his “vehicle-packaging-content” model applied to Genesis 1:
The chronology of the narrative is not the chronology of creation but rather the packaging in which the message is wrapped. The particular acts depicted in the Story of the Creator are not the events of creative action reported with photographic realism, but rather with imaginative illustrations of the way in which God and the Creation are related (pp 84–85).
In my judgment, Howard Van Till used adiaphorism in his term “packaging” and/or “third function information” which includes the part of Scripture which the author classifies as “nonessential” or “indifferent” to the gospel or redemption message. I believe he expanded adiaphorism by asserting that the part of Scripture which he classifies as “packaging” and/or “third function information,” is not a product of divine revelation and is, therefore, solely and thoroughly human.
In addition, throughout Chapter One and the remainder of the book Van Till prides himself in asking all the appropriate questions and the only appropriate questions. The domains he has set up have just the correct and the only correct things included and excluded. What he declares biased, is biased. What he claims to be unbiased, is therefore, free of any bias. Later in the book he declares theoretical conclusion drawing in the natural science domain as a totally unbiased analyrical study. Because he says it, therefore, it is so. He declares that the main purpose of Scripture is covenantal and anything else in Scripture is secondary or unimportant. He determines which parts of Scripture are products of divine revelation and which parts are not. His claim is that he is not a professional theologian or Bible interpreter, but he then proceeds to make some extremely bold, sweeping statements and judgments about Scripture as being absolute truths.
Chapter One, I believe, answers the following question Van Till asked on page 263 of The Fourth Day.
When some of them go on to receive further education in the natural sciences, when they become more knowledgeable concerning both the methods and results of scientifiic investigation and gain an appreciation for the validity of empirical data and the credibility of its interpretation in terms of coherent, evolutionary cosmic history, what kind of choice can they make (page 263)? Chapter One reveals the choice Howard Van Till has made. Natural science, Van Till’s study and work, was guarded against illusionary appearance, and he chose to make Genesis 1–11 illusionary instead. For Van Till, all the credibility lies in cosmic history, not in the part of the Bible he labels “packaging.” It makes it much more convenient and comfortable for the scientist and preserves his education and profession in natural science, including all cosmic history theorizing.
VANTILL’S “ADIAPHORA STRATEGY” REVERSED
Having given a summary of and some comments on Chapter One of The Fourth Day, I would now like to apply Van Till’s “vehide-packaging-content” model to Chapter One, using on him and Chapter One of his book, some of the reasoning, rationalization and logic he used on the Bible. I don’t think Van Till should object since he took the liberty to do it with the Bible and expects the Author of Scripture not to object. I would like to entitle this endeavor: Taking Chapter One of The Fourth Day Seriously.
Taking Chapter One Seriously
What does it mean to take Chapter One seriously? To state it as directly as I can, it means to respect Chapter One for what it is, and to respond to it appropriately. Clearly, taking Chapter One seriously is no simple matter.
To respond to Chapter One of The Fourth Day appropriately and take it seriously, I would like to consider the (1) status of the chapter, (2) its functions, and then (3) analyze what the “vehicle,” the “packaging,” and the “content” are of Chapter One. We must ask the appropriate questions to get the appropriate answers for such a profound chapter as Chapter One.
The Status of Chapter One
First of all, what is the status of Chapter One? Where does it stand relative to the other chapters in this book? It is crucial that we resolve the question of status, because it affects in a significant way nearly every other question we might ask concerning the nature of The Fourth Day.
Chapter One, “Taking the Bible Seriously,” is crucial to the rest of the book. It has a very big mission to fulfill for the author. If Howard Van Till can persuade Christians to accept Chapter One, they will be able to accept the rest of the book. His life’s work and study in natural science will be preserved, worked into his world view which he tries to identify as Calvinistic, and be approved by Scripture. He can then be honorable in both the scientific community of which he is a member and in the Christian community of which he is a member.
The chapter is also appropriately placed as the first chapter. To fully understand Chapter One and see what purpose the chapter is fulfilling. it should be read at the end of the book rather than the beginning, or else reread after completing the book to understand what much of the terminology really means to the author and what groundwork he is laying.
One way to understand the unique status of Chapter One is to investigate the sources the author drew on as the chapter and book were written. I believe the following quote gives the author’s major source:
The cosmos is permeated with evidence of its own history. The study of that history lies legitimately within the domain of the natural sciences. While the conclusions drawn from such a study are often tentative, and while the reasoning leading to many of these conclusions often takes the form of a plausibility argument, I firmly believe that the conclusions must be given serious consideration (page 107).
Van Till uses the study of cosmic history with its tentatively drawn conclusions, and the plausibility argument as the source for his philosophy of temporal origin and formal origin rather than the book of Genesis which was written by God who saw Creation firsthand, and Moses who was on the mountain with the One who saw Creation firsthand. Which source sounds more reliable to you?
The Functions of Chapter One
Our second appropriate question for Chapter One is: What are its functions? In my opinion the chapter has three functions—a primary, a secondary, and a third of much less importance; in fact, its “credibility can be questioned and is of no more significance than to be read as questionable information” (to borrow Van Till’s description of Scripture).
In my judgment, the primary function of Chapter One is to sell to the reader the author’s “vehicle-packaging-content” approach to Biblical interpretation. By establishing Genesis 1 to be symbolic poetry, and the main structure of Scripture as covenantal, the author can then try to convince the reader to accept his model of Bible interpretation so that Genesis 1 can be read only for covenantal relationships between the Creator and Creation, and Genesis 1–11 can be declared covenantal form and, therefore, primeval history; so it only has to be read as illustrative stories. That will take care of the events of creation, Adam and Eve, and the flood, since all these events foul up the cosmic history record for the standard pattern of material behavior from the birth to death stage.
The secondary function of Chapter One, in my opinion, is to convince the reader that the author takes the Bible seriously. He establishes strongly his Calvinistic training and uses Biblical terminology which will be discussed later in the “packaging” analysis. He uses “high sounding” adjectives to describe many Biblical nouns and concepts. In my judgment he seeks to display great Biblical understanding in much theological discussion, attempting to persuade the reader that he truly knows the Bible and speaks profoundly about the Creator. Creation, and Redeemer. In my opinion his attempt to convince the reader that he takes the Bible seriously is a secondary function because it is used for the purpose of persuading or convincing the reader to accept his primary function.
The third function, of much less importance, is his purpose of stating or arguing his theological views. The reason it should be given this suggested lack of importance is because it lacks author authenticity since the author states that he makes no claim to be a professional theologian or Biblical interpreter (page 3); therefore, it would be nonsensical to read it for anything other than questionable information.
The Vehicle -Packaging-Content Model of Chapter One
Next, I would like to apply Van Till’s “vehicle-packaging-content” model to Chapter One of The Fourth Day.
In my judgment the “content” of Chapter One is the author’s message of presenting his “vehicle-packaging-content” approach and seeking to get his readers to accept it as his own method of Bible interpretation. The “content” or message has author authenticity and validity because he designed the model and implements it throughout the book.
In my opinion, the “vehicle” (literary form or genre) for Chapter One is prose. However, I must conclude that it is persuasive prose for the purpose of selling his method of Bible interpretation. The era in which this chapter and book are written is in the latter part of the 20th century. A common form of prose at this time is persuasive prose used in marketing and advertisement. Persuasive prose in the latter 20th century has characteristics found in Chapter One, namely flamboyant, superlative, majestic language to convince, persuade and sell. Persuasive prose used in marketing methods in the era Van Till writes this chapter often includes many big truths with subtle and hidden insinuations and meanings. It often ridicules. insults, mocks or condemns its competitors. Advertisements using persuasive prose often require one to “read between the lines” and read the “small print.” I believe the author of Chapter One uses sales and marketing literary tools common in the 20th century. Therefore, in my judgment, Chapter One is presented in the literary form of persuasive prose, or one can say, “Its ‘vehicle’ is persuasive prose.”
The “packaging” of the author’s message in Chapter One is cleverly, appropriately and intelligently chosen. To fulfill the chapter’s function, his message is wrapped in much positive sounding language with words like: “beautiful and imaginative representation,” “artistic portrait,” “may confidently expect,” “all the more clearly,” “may be profitably employed,” “gain a deeper and more detailed knowledge of God,” “profound truths of immense magnitude,” “makes no pretense,” “must creatively and imaginatively follow,” “to get even the beginning of an understanding of that profound idea,” “it is wise,” “to package the goods appropriately,” “in order to protect the contents from damage,” “provide convenient units for handling and delivery,” “powerful,” “appropriate,” “magnificent,” “must be studiously and prayerfully wise,” “sound principles of interpretation,” and “more easily visualized” (pp. 11–18).
There also are words in the “packaging” to convey a message of condescension to those not willing to accept his message. These include words like: “preposterous absurdity,” “unrealistic or distorted picture,” “chronicle of divine magic,” “prevents us from getting its real meaning,” “distorted, perhaps even grotesque misrepresentation,” “loss is thereby doubled,” “dulling of our awareness,” “illegitimate claim of supremacy,” “perhaps less,” “ignorance,” “ineptness,” “fear,” “genuine fear,” “unfounded,” “untrusting,” “lack of trust,” “foolish,” and “more absurd yet” (pp. 11–16).
Governor, Preserver, Protector, Provider
The “packaging” of Chapter One wraps the message in ambiguous words which sound credibly Calvinistic and Biblical, but through a reading of the remainder of the book, one finds that the meaning which the author is putting in to the Calvinistic terminology of “Creator,” “Creation,” “origin,” “Governor,” “Preserver,” and “Protector of Creation” is considerably different than the meaning with which the usual Calvinist is reading those words.
Chapter One uses the words very carefully and appropriately to sound very Biblical, Reformed and Calvinistic. He calls God the Creator very forcefully with profound and reverent sounding language. The Calvinist comes with the connotation of God as Creator of heaven and earth as recorded in Genesis 1. The author of Chapter One comes with Creator only meaning Originator. and Originator isn’t even as great as it sounds. God as Originator only means that God originated or caused the “Big Bang” which the natural scientist assumes to have occurred. He uses the words Governor, Preserver and Provider for explaining God’s relationship to the cosmos. It sounds right on track until are reads the rest of the book and finds that the author’s concept of God as Governor, Preserver, and Provider of the cosmos is much more limited than the Reformed or Calvinistic belief. The author sees God’s governance as being bound only to the normal or standard pattern for material behavior which the author claims to be coherent and invariant; therefore, God only abides strictly by the laws of nature He put into effect. According to author Van Till, there can be no deviance in the ordinary patterned behavior of matter from birth to death stage. Van Till writes:
We can assume that the Creation will display both integrity and coherence in all of its properties, all of its behavior, and in all of its history (page 240). We noted the substantial body of evidence supporting the assertion that natural laws are spatially and temporally invariant (page 256).
Van Till explains that even God cannot defy that birth to death stage pattern; therefore, Adam and Eve created as adults must be done away, as well as the specific events of creation, and the flood as a historical or specific event. God’s governance, preservation and protection of the cosmos for the author really only consists in God sustaining the natural processes of evolved matter. Quoting Van Till:
That the cosmos has the status of Creation entails first of all that it is totally dependent on God for its existence, both for its coming into being and for its continuing existence. For this reason, we said, the Creator must act as both the Originator and the Sustainer of the universe (page 67).
Another ambiguous word used often is “Creation.” Wrapping his message in this word was helpful for fulfilling the functions of Chapter One and the book. Creation was differentiated from creation. Capitalized Creation was used to refer to the “material world,” or, for the author, “evolved matter.” Choosing to use Creation rather than “material world” or “evolved matter” was a wise choice for the author when being read by Calvinists. The word Creation connotes the product of God’s creative work. But to accurately convey the meaning the author gives the word, “Origination” or “Evolved Matter” should be substituted for Creation. Van Till capitalizes Creation literally and philosophically both in his writing and theology.
If Chapter One and/or the book was confusing to you when you read it, reread Chapter One and make the suggested substitutions: “Originator” for Creator, “Origination” or “Evolved Matter” for Creation, and “Sustainer” for Governor, Preserver and Protector, and you will get a much clearer picture of what Chapter One is saying theologically.
Another double meaning word used in the packaging of his message is Van Till’s use of the word “origin.” For him cosmic history dictates both his philosophy of temporal origin (“the beginning of something’s existence”) (page 220) and formal origin (“the manner in which something was formed from existing materials”) (page 220) with only causal origin being assigned to Biblical exegesis. Scripture is only left with the part of origin that doesn’t conflict with the author’s high credibility ranking of cosmic history which includes temporal development and evolutionary processes. The Bible can have what’s left, which is to name something or someone as the cause of the “Big Bang” and the cause of the continuing of the coherent and invariant laws of nature. It keeps natural science in the place the author wants it, and it keeps the Bible in the place the author wants it—cosmic history being credible, authentic, non-illusionary, elevated, and dictating the meaning of Genesis 1–11. Van Till writes:
Neither Biblical theism nor atheistic naturalism can justifiably make a priori demands upon the results of empirical science (page 208).
The author says this about biological evolution:
The answer will be found by empirical study, not by philosophical or theological dictation (page 188).
Van Till argues later in the book that the creationist tries to say that there are only two beliefs—creationism and naturalism. Van Till alleges there’s a third; and, I believe, that for him there is because in Chapter One he is straddling the fence between the two, trying to identify with his naturalistic colleagues in natural science, who leave God out of the picture totally, and trying to identify with the creationist by tacking onto the cosmic history record, God’s relationship to the cosmos as that which only sets the patterns of matter in motion and subsequently sustains them. This way he can be at peace with both worlds. In my judgment Van Till’s creation theology is a naturalistic philosophy, with God as Originator and Sustainer of evolved matter added. All of his theologizing would be more plausible if God hadn’t included Genesis 1–11 in the Bible.
Another well-liked and wisely chosen word in the “packaging” ofChapter One and the entire book is “status.” Webster’s Dictionary defines “status” as “condition or position with regard to law.” The word “status” helps the author make all the external or Biblical terminology such as Creator, Creation, origin, Governor, Preserver, Provider, Creator/Creation relationship, covenantal relationship, etc. to sound Calvinistic, but the author’s connotation of the biblical terminology is simply in relation to the coherent and invariant laws of nature. Van Till explains: In fact, however, the questions lie not within the categories of internal affairs but in the categories of external relationships—status and its consequences for origin, governance, value, and purpose (page 228).
Covenant, covenantal relationships, eternal relationship and eternal covenant are given much emphasis in the packaging of Chapter One and appropriately so. They are Calvinistic terms and used to help the author’s cause of status, Creator/Creation relationship, and covenantal structure and form to make the specific events of Genesis 1 illusionary and Genesis 1–11 just illustrative stories of the great covenantal relationship between Creator and Creation. Quoting Van Till:
We should recognize that Genesis 1, for example, is not a journalistic chronicle of past events but an artistic illustration of an eternal relationship. In its role as the opening statement of the covenantal canon, Genesis 1 serves to introduce the covenant God as the Creator and to establish the status of the entire cosmos as his Creation (page 270). (Italics mine, J.G.) (Substitute “Originator” for Creator and “Evolved Matter” or “Origination” for Creation, J.G.)
Marking Tool—Persuasive Prose
In the packaging of Chapter One the author uses the marketing literary tool of persuasive prose well. He introduces a concept he wants adopted by his reader, one step at a time—appropriate method. This is done with the 1) poetry discussion followed categories later by establishing it as symbolic, metaphoric poetry; 2) from Scripture as covenantal structure to determine later it is also covenantal form as the suzerainty covenant; 3) and from establishing the three functions of Scripture to later presenting his model of Bible interpretation which is based on the given functions. By using much repetition with subtle changes or additions, high sounding vocabulary, vague terminology and complex sentence structure, the author creates confusion for the reader, making it more difficult for the reader to really decipher what he is saying; therefore, the reader will more easily accept what the author is selling. The “packaging” of Chapter One contains many theological terms and arguments, with an abundance of good-sounding truths, wrapped in enough Biblical and Calvinistic terminology to make it sound authentic and religiously sound as one can see in the following quote: “The human history recorded in Scripture is genuine human history” (page 8). This sounds good, but for the author, the record of human history begins with Genesis 12; and in addition, all the specific human stories, events and accounts in Scripture are classified by the author as “packaging,” and void of any divine revelation, hence solely and thoroughly human. How genuirre is that for a genuine human history record?
To conclude my endeavor of “Taking Chapter One Seriously,” I believe Chapter One’s theology can be “hanged on the gallows” the author built in the book for other individuals or groups with different presuppositions than he has. In my judgment, the theology of Chapter One, “Taking the Bible Seriously,” can be hanged on each of the following quotes Van Till used to judge others—gallows he built for Concordists, the apparent-age hypothesis, three for scientific creationism, and a method of hypothesis testing, respectively. I quote from The Fourth Day.
• To treat the empirically discovered cosmic chronology as if it were the answer to the question of Genesis chronology is to allow the sciences to dictate scriptural interpretation, which is, in general, bad hermeneutics (page 92).
• …substitutes deceptive illusion for authentic, divinely directed cosmic history (page 239). (Instead Van Till substitutes deceptive illusion for authentic Scripture. J.G.)
• “Scientific creationism” takes a cafeteria-style approach to natural science: take only what you like and pass by the rest (pp. 245–246). (The author has protected his esteemed natural science to leave it totally intact by taking the cafeteria-style approach to the Bible instead: takes only what he likes and passes by the rest. J.G.)
It gives the appearance of promoting belief in the Biblical doctrine of creation, but in reality its concept of creation has been stripped of its Biblical content … (page 246).
• …a sad parody of Biblical theology (page 246).
• …impose humanly devised themes on Scripture, forcing it to illustrate what we want it to say (page 40).
Have I convinced you that I take the first Chapter of The Fourth Day seriously? Neither did Van Till convince me that he takes all the Bible seriously.
This first chapter of The Fourth Day among the Christian Reformed community reminds me of the children’s story, The Emperor’s New Clothes. Everyone saw the naked emperor but was not wanting to be called “stupid,” when everyone else was saying that the emperor was wearing beautiful clothing. Many in the Christian Reformed community read this chapter and book, and who wants to be called “ignorant, inept, fearful, untrusting, foolish, and absurd” if you don’t call Genesis what Van Till does, or don’t use his “vehicle-packaging-content” model to interpret Scripture?
It is most unfortunate that the Calvin College Board of Trustees did not take a strong stand against this kind of Bible interpretation. As in the report of the twelve spies in the Old Testament, the majority won, but that doesn’t prove it is wise and acceptable. I believe if this book had been written by someone outside of our denomination and not by a professor of Calvin College, this method of Bible interpretation would have been readily rejected.
Howard Van Till has an influential position for propagating this approach to Bible interpretation. It has a network effect in the Christian Reformed community. Do you want this method of Bible interpretation taught to your sons and daughters, our future Christian School teachers and ministers?
Widespread acceptance of “adiaphorism” and “vehicle-packaging-content” in Bible interpretation will bring the CRC to pre-Reformation days, likely not with the same teachings the Roman Catholic Church had then, but certainly a lack of Scriptural authority. God can send another reformer if it is His will, in His time, but it will be to the shame of the CRC as it was to the Roman Catholic Church at the time of Martin Luther.
Mrs. Groenendyk attended Dordt College and graduated from Calvin College. She received her MA from MSU and taught in five Christian schools for a total of twenty-seven years. She is married to Rev. Marion Groenendyk and is a member of the First Zeeland CRC where her husband is employed.
1. Qualben, Lars P., A History of the Christian Church (New York:Thomas Nelson and Sons). 1942. p. 282.
2. Renwick, Alexander M., Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book. House), 1960, p. 25.
3. Clouse, Robert G., The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 1974, p.13.
4. Groebner, Prof. Theodore. D.O., The Borderland of Right and Wrong (St. Louis, MO: Concordia). 1938, p. VIII.
5. Encyclopaedia Britannica, vo1., (Benton), p. 145.
6. Groebner, Prof. Theodoree, D.O., The Borderland of Right and Wrong (St. Louis, MO: Concordio), 1938. p.VIII.
7. Renwick, Alexander M., Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House). 1960, p.25.
8. Clouse, Robert G., The New Intemational Dictionary of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 1974, p.13.
9. Van Till, Howard J., The Fourth Day (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), 1986. (All quotes through remainder of article with page number given in parenthesis.)